Return of the king: How the Tony Hawk remake came to be

Recreating a classic game is never an easy feat. No matter what approach the developer takes, there always seems to be some group of detractors complaining either that not enough or too much was changed. That means that — despite the abundance of remakes that are green lit each year — recreating something that was once popular is hardly a surefire path to sales success, so it’s not surprising that Robomodo hit some pushback from Activision when they first discussed the idea of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.

“To be honest, Josh (Tsui, president of Robomodo) and I pushed Activision to do it repeatedly until we laid it out that this can happen, in this timeframe, for this cost. It was a long battle,” Tony Hawk explained to GamesIndustry International in a recent interview.

The major concern that the world’s biggest third party publisher had was that the development costs for such an undertaking would be higher than what could be recuperated through sales. Hawk understood Activision’s trepidation, but neither he nor the team at Robomodo were about to let that stop them. “We knew that once people saw it in this light it would get the attention it needed,” Hawk said.

GamesIndustry says that the developer was certain it could deliver the goods after less than a year’s worth of development by leaning heavily on the work series creator Neversoft had done on the original games from which the remake’s levels are pulled. “There’s a certain economy of scale when you combine what Neversoft has already done and as helped us out on, and our previous involvement with the franchise,” Tsui told GamesIndustry. “So that helped out a lot in terms of production times as well, we were able to be really efficient because of our history and assets.”

Tsui then identified the team’s golden rule that has governed all work they have done on the project: “don’t screw up the gameplay.” Their feeling was that these titles were such seminal works in the extreme sports gaming world, that tinkering with anything central to the actual playing experience would be viewed by fans as sacrilege. Instead, they set about pumping up the graphics with Unreal Engine 3 and overhauling the physics to get them up to modern standards. Such care was supposedly put into development, that the studio even incorporated new elements to match what veterans’ false memories had tricked them into believing they had experienced, even though they never really had.

“One of the biggest challenges is people haven’t played this for a long time on PSone and people remember doing things that didn’t actually happen,” Tsui explained. “But if a player mentions something and we can put it in the game without changing the gameplay then let’s do it. Little things like the character animation shifting body weight that wasn’t possible 12 years ago; we added that realism that people thought was always in the game. If you’re spinning in the air, the original was just like character rotation on a turntable. Now the skater rotates his upper body and then the rest of his body follows — it’s these subtle nuances that make it.”

With the number crunchers at Activision fearing a underwhelming profits from the get-go, it may seem strange to some that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is coming exclusively to downloadable platforms. From Tsui’s perspective, however, it’s a choice that has set Robomodo up for potential success. “In a lot of ways it’s liberating,” he said of developing for XBLA/PSN. “There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to retail products, there’s a certain scale that has to be met. With XBLA there’s a scope that allows us to be more creative and worry less about a gigantic game, so it’s a quality versus quantity issue.”

Source: GamesIndustry International

About Nick Santangelo

Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and has been reporting on the games industry since 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Find Nick Santangelo on Google+ and Twitter.